By ANNE M. PETERSON, AP Sports Writer
SAMARA, Russia (AP) — As Senegal’s new generation pursues its own World Cup success, coach Aliou Cisse said there’s plenty to work on — and he should know.
Senegal’s last appearance in the World Cup came in 2002, when the team reached the quarterfinals. Cisse was the captain of that squad.
Now with Cisse as coach, the Lions of Teranga will play their final group stage match against Colombia on Thursday in Samara with a spot in the knockout round at stake.
“We need to improve the impact. We need to be more aggressive on the ball,” Cisse said. “At this level it goes very fast. We need to have more concentration. We need to be more rigorous.”
Japan and Senegal lead Group H with four points apiece. Colombia has three and could advance if it beats Senegal, and both could go through with a draw if Japan loses. Poland has been eliminated.
The top two finishers in the group will go on to play opponents from Group G — either England or Belgium. Those teams play Thursday for the top spot in their group.
Senegal opened the tournament in Russia with a 2-1 victory over Poland and followed that with a disappointing 2-2 draw against Japan.
“We were not very good, frankly,” Cisse said. “I think the best team on the pitch was Japan, I have to be honest.”
Senegal, making its second World Cup appearance, shocked the field in 2002 by beating defending champion France in the tournament opener. Senegal advanced to the quarterfinals before falling to Turkey.
Colombia made the quarterfinals four years ago in Brazil, falling to the hosts 2-1. It was the furthest the nation had advanced in soccer’s premier tournament.
After a 2-1 loss to Japan in its opener in Russia, Colombia appeared as if it had regained its Brazilian form with a 3-0 victory over Poland. James Rodriguez, the Bayern Munich star who was a substitute in the team’s opener because of a calf injury, set up two goals against Poland.
Rodriguez has six goals and four assists in seven World Cup games, and many are eagerly awaiting his first goal in Russia.
Coach Jose Peckerman was taking a similar approach to Cisse heading into the final group match.
“We need to play at an extraordinary level to beat a tough team,” he said. “Mentally, we’re in a good place, but we need to continue to improve, because we are ambitious, and we hope to continue in this World Cup.”
BAND OF BROTHERS
Pekerman dedicated the team’s victory over Poland to Carlos Sanchez, who was the target of a death threat after receiving a red card in the opener against Japan.
Sanchez could return to the team for the group finale as Colombian authorities investigate the threat, which referenced the murder of Colombian defender Andres Escobar following an own-goal at the 1994 World Cup.
“We play with a lot of responsibility and a lot of dedication and so forth, but these things shouldn’t be said lightly. And whether it’s confirmed or not, this is something that is very painful,” Pekerman said.
Senegal has grabbed attention at the World Cup for a joyful warmup routine that looks more like a dance than a workout. The team’s synchronized moves include a bit of chanting before the players huddle together in laughter. A short video of the routine has drawn more than a million views on Twitter.
Colombia suffered a blow when midfielder Abel Aguilar was injured and taken off the field on a stretcher in the first half against Poland. Mateus Uribe took his place in the match.
The team said Monday that Aguilar would undergo additional tests to determine the extent of the left adductor injury.
The teams have met just once before, in a 2014 friendly in Buenos Aires. It ended in a 2-2 draw.
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